Women who are members of Arise Chicago, a Chicago workers center, are speaking out against sexual harassment at work.
In a video titled Out of the Shadows, Arise members like Isabel Escobar, an Arise board member and domestic worker leader, tell their stories about being sexually harassed and threatened while on the job.
The video also offers advise about actions women can take to fight back against sexual harassment.
Escobar hopes that when people see Out of the Shadows, they will understand how sexual harassment menaces the livelihoods of women, especially those who work at low-wage jobs.
“We want to let people know that this doesn’t just happen to famous women,” said Escobar. “Abuse is not only committed by famous men in high power positions. Sexual harassment happens every day to low-wage workers, to immigrants, to women of color. And bosses, supervisors feel they have power over our work, our incomes. Therefore, many women are afraid to speak up or are afraid no one will believe us.”
Jocelyn Frye of the Center for American Progress has studied sexual harassment at work and finds that it is especially prevalent in service industries that employ a large number women who work for low wages.
According to Frye, the hospitality/food service and retail industries are the two sectors of the economy with the highest percentages of reported sexual harassment.
“Women—particularly women of color—are more likely to work lower-wage jobs, where power imbalances are often more pronounced and where fears of reprisals or losing their jobs can deter victims from coming forward,” writes Frye.
Women in the hospitality industry also face another source of sexual harassment.
UNITE HERE Local 1 in Chicago surveyed 500 union members who work in Chicago area hotels and casinos.
The survey found that 58 percent of hotel workers and 77 percent of casino workers reported that they have been sexually harassed by guests.
Sexual harassment by guests not only makes these workers uncomfortable, it can lead to sexual violence.
In response, Local 1 and the Chicago Federation of Labor succeeded in getting the Chicago City Council to pass the “Hands Off, Pants Up” city ordinance.
The ordinance protects hotel employees from retaliation when they report sexual violence by a guest. It also requires hotels to implement anti-harassment policies and to provide panic buttons to hotel workers who work alone in guest rooms and restrooms.
Workers can press panic buttons when guests act inappropriately toward them.
UNITE HERE has also negotiated a clause in their collective bargaining agreements with hotels around the country that requires the employer to provide workers with panic buttons.
“I feel much safer (because of the panic button),” said Betty Rice, a room attendant in a midtown Manhattan hotel room to WNYC radio.
“Because when you’re frightened, [that] doesn’t always mean you’re going to say ‘I’m on the 14th floor,'” Rice continued. “You’re screaming ‘I need help’. But with the panic button, once you press it, [hotel security] is already alert to where you [are].”
Unfortunately, there’s no panic button that can be pushed to stop unwanted sexual harassment by bosses or co-workers.
But Martina Sanchez, a worker leader of ARISE, sees hope in the fact that many women are coming forward to tell their stories and says that this moment represents a tipping point in the fight against sexual harassment.
“There are thousands of women who remain silent out of a variety of fears–fear of what will be said about them, fear of losing their job, or worst of all, fear they won’t be listened to and nothing will change,” said Sanchez. “But this moment is the beginning of a new struggle.”